Fighting On

Olympic medalists Abby Wambach, Cullen Jones, Mallory Weggemann tell stories of pushing through

By Jenny Hottle, staff writer

Friday, September 14, 2012

Originally posted on

Twenty meters from the wall, Mallory Weggemann saw her competitors pulling ahead in the London 2012 Paralympics 50 free finals. She took a breath, buried her head in the water and pushed forward.

Upon hitting the wall, she took a look at the block and saw one light blink, signifying a gold medal win — and a new Paralympic record.

Weggemann and fellow Olympians Cullen Jones and Abby Wambach each shared their stories with business students Thursday night, detailing how they overcame personal and team challenges in order to achieve their goals.

The Deloitte and U.S. Olympic Committee Roadshow was part of the Smith Undergraduate Student Association’s annual business week, which culminates today in the business school career fair. Deloitte is hosting the 10-stop campus tour nationwide, giving university students the chance to hear athletes’ stories of their journeys to the London games and the opportunity to meet with Deloitte employees to discuss their career interests.

Weggemann, who began swimming when she was 7 years old, said she lost hope when a routine epidural injection left her paralyzed from the waist down at age 18.

“I didn’t know where things were going to go from there,” she said.

But after learning about the Paralympics, Weggemann became determined to get back in the water and start swimming again — this time using the pull of her arms to get her across the pool rather than the push of her legs.

After winning a gold medal, Weggemann said though her ability to walk was taken away, her ability to live was not.

“Every single one of us has a disability,” she said. “We all have something that holds us back if we let it. It’s up to us to push the boundaries. It’s up to us to take the lead and move forward from there.”

For Wambach, the second highest all-time goal scorer for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, her major challenge followed the U.S. team’s loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final.

Disappointed and embarrassed, Wambach said she was determined for her team to win the gold in the 2012 games.

“Nobody was going to beat us — that was our mindset,” Wambach said. “We were not willing to give up.”

Perseverance played a similar role in Jones’ swimming career. A gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jones nearly missed qualifying the 2012 games.

“I’ve been to the highest stage; I have the gold,” Jones said. “But what’s not clicking?”

He kept training every day, despite his coach’s lack of faith he’d make the Olympic team again. Soon, Jones found himself back in the Olympics and came home from London with one gold and two silver medals.

“If you have a goal and you want to reach that goal, you have to plan how you’re going to get that goal,” he said.

Julia Klein, SUSA finance vice president, said last night’s event was a great way to cap off the business week.

“It showed how you can take anything and apply it to business,” she said. “It was a combination of fun and business — a really unique event.”

Diane Borhani, the Deloitte national director of campus recruiting, said she hoped students saw the parallels between leading in sports and leading in business.

“We want them to walk away form the USOC campus roadshow thinking about how they can achieve their personal best,” she said.

Like other business students, senior marketing and supply chain management major Amy Garber said she came to the event to learn more about the company and prepare for the career fair and was inspired by the athletes’ stories.

Jones said in an interview after the event that he was initially hesitant to join the roadshow. However, he said he realized he could help students take the next step in their lives, overcome their challenges and accomplish their goals.

“They look at us as superheroes,” Jones said. “But we’re not really that different.”

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